By SEN. WILLIAM “BILL” CASSIDY (R-LA.) AND BENJAMIN F. CHAVIS, JR, | The Hill
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Black women experience maternal mortality two to three times higher than that of white women. The estimated national maternal mortality rate in the United States is about 17 per 100,000 live births –– but it is about 43 per100,000 live births for Black women.
We both are advocates and supporters of proposals that address public health disparities in America, particularly with respect to inequities concerning the maternal mortality rates of Black women. As we bring awareness this week to Black Maternal Mental Health Week, we shine a light on an issue that should transcend partisan divisions and the racial divide that unfortunately persists across the nation.
As a Republican and as a Democrat we have made a conscious decision to work closely together on this issue in our respective home states of Louisiana and North Carolina. Yet, we also know that disparities in maternal health and mortality are national problems that warrant effective and timely congressional, statewide, and local responses and remedies.
The two of us have been actively involved in addressing various social inequities for decades from the formidable days of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to today, in our communities and in our nation’s capital. In addition, our two families have had a positive history in the medical, health care, and environmental fields.
But what really served as a catalyst that enabled us to initiate a public bipartisan unity and resolve to work together going forward to address the issues of maternal mortality and other matters that impact the quality of life of all Americans was simply our mutual impatience with the current widening, unproductive partisan divide in Washington, D.C., and throughout nearly all the state legislatures.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once prophetically affirmed, “We must be impatient with injustice.” We are impatient with the injustice of nonproductive political polarization in America. We also believe that beyond the labels and aisles of our different political parties, there is both an opportunity and a responsibility to work together to address the systemic injustices and disparities of our nation.
Fortunately, there are some recent successful bipartisan actions by the U.S. Congress that each of us have personally supported and endorsed. The John Lewis National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) Research Endowment Revitalization Act is now law. This new law provides funds to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to conduct research into and to address minority health disparities.
Also, the Maternal Health Quality Improvement (MHQI) Act enacted by the U.S. Congress is now law. The MHQI Act looks specifically at reducing maternal mortality among Black women and other minority women and creates racial and ethnic bias training programs for health care providers while studying best practices to reduce and prevent discrimination in the American health care system.
But there is much more that needs to be done to ensure equality and equity in how our nation provides the highest quality health care to all. Today the U.S. Congress should also pass the Connected Maternal Online Monitoring Services (MOM) Act that will allow Medicaid to cover remotely monitoring pregnant women from their homes who are at a higher risk of complications. Imagine a woman in her third trimester of a high-risk pregnancy having to take public transportation to the doctor’s every two weeks for a check-up. Instead, with the passage of the MOM Act, the doctor can remotely monitor the mother’s vital signs and basic labs. If a problem arises, home health care providers or an ambulance can be sent.
Lastly, there is also a bipartisan bill, the Telemental Health Care Access Act, that Congress should pass. That bill would reduce barriers to telemedicine and make health care more accessible to Medicare patients. We witnessed the success of telehealth services during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We call on all Americans to be united to address maternal mortality. Let’s eliminate racial disparity in all health outcomes but especially among those about to give birth or who have just given birth. Let’s pass the other proposed health care reforms and support the research to make our nation’s health care more system effective, fair, equitable, and just.
Senator William “Bill” Cassidy (Republican) is an American physician and politician serving as the senior United States Senator from Louisiana, a seat he has held since 2015. He served in the Louisiana State Senate from 2006 to 2009 and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2009 to 2015. Cassidy sponsored the John Lewis National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) Research Endowment Revitalization Act; the Maternal Health Quality Improvement (MHQI) Act; the Connected Maternal Online Monitoring Services (MOM) Act; and the Telemental Health Care Access Act. Senator Cassidy can be reached at Cassidy.senate.gov.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr, (Democrat), worked as the North Carolina Youth Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr; civil rights icon and former Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); chemist and first to coin the term “environmental racism,” and is currently president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and executive producer/host of The Chavis Chronicles on PBS TV stations across the nation, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org